Chelsea vs Middlesbrough Preview
Chelsea vs Middlesbrough Preview
Riverside Stadium | November 20, 2016
The international break is finally over as Chelsea gets set to renew acquaintances with Middlesbrough for the first time in the Premier League since 2009 and the first time in all competitions since 2013 (FA Cup). The Smoggies are one of three promoted teams this season in the top flight and going into the weekend sit at 15th place with 11 points in 11 games. Chelsea fans will almost surely be full of confidence considering the recent form their team is in and the fact that Middlesbrough are not exactly a world-class opponent. However, over-confidence is a deadly sin in the football world and upsets of greater magnitudes have occurred. Middlesbrough have not lost in over a month, managing draws against both Arsenal and Manchester City in that timespan. Breaking down Aitor Karanka’s team is not an easy task and one that Conte must prepare his players well for.
The Blues are flying high coming off their 5-0 against Everton. It was such a dominating performance that legendary English commentator John Motson, who has been calling games since 1971, called it the best Premier League performance he has ever seen (if you have not heard about his comments yet you can read about it here). That is certainly some high praise indeed. Expect the same formation, 3-4-3, and a very similar style of play. However, there are injury concerns. Two of the biggest offensive stars for the Blues, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, both picked up minor knocks with Belgium and Spain respectively during the International break. Hazard picked up a calf injury and Costa a groin injury. They are expected to play, but keep an eye out for them as they may be limited in their play. Not having those two stars perform like they usually do may be all Middlesbrough need for a clean sheet.
Injuries: Zouma (unlikely).
Not only has it been a while since Middlesbrough saw Chelsea on a football pitch, but it’s been a while since they won a game against the Blues. Their last game was back in 2006, a 2-1 win courtesy of a stoppage time winner at the Riverside Stadium. However, like mentioned earlier, Boro have drawn both Arsenal and Man City in the past month. It’s a good bet they don’t feel completely intimidated by Chelsea either.
Middlesbrough line up in a 4-5-1 formation, the midfielders playing in a straight line. They are a defence first team, and have been incredibly in their own end so far this season. In fact, there are only 4 teams in the Premier League that have conceded fewer than Middlesbrough. Those four? Spurs, Chelsea, Man City, and Arsenal. Their defence has been solid, consistent, and something that should give Chelsea a challenge.
Injuries: Ayala (probable).
Three Matchups to Watch
Negredo vs Luiz/Azpilicueta/Cahill: The former Man City player, Alvaro Negredo is the man most likely to play as the lone striker in this weekends match. He has been a bit of a disappointment so far in terms of bagging goals. He only has one goal in 11 matches so far. A relatively high priced summer acquisition, Karanka will be counting on him to bag more goals. It won’t be easy for him however, as this Chelsea backline have kept clean sheets in multiple consecutive games. If he can break out this game, it would be a big factor for a potential upset.
- Costa vs Victor Valdes: Middlesbrough’s keeper, Victor Valdes, is best known for his 12 years as first choice keeper for Barcelona. He won 6 La Liga titles, 2 Copa Del Rey cups, 3 Champions League trophies, and 2 FIFA Club World Cups. Although at 34 years old he is a shadow of his former dominant self, the Spaniard is clearly still a great goalie, being a big part of Middlesbrough’s defensive success. If Boro are to win this game, he may be called upon to make some big saves against the current Premier League goal leader.
- Traore vs Moses: After starting the season on the bench, Adama Traore has started and played the full 90 minutes in the last three games for Middlesbrough. The former Barcelona man is known for his speed and being one of the faster wingers in the Premier League. He is still searching for his first goal of the campaign, and Victor Moses will have a challenge defensively keeping Traore in front of him instead of behind him.
As mentioned earlier, Boro last beat Chelsea in 2006. They actually did the double against Chelsea that season, beating them 3-0 earlier that year at the Bridge. Their last win over the Blues before that season was all the way back in 2000.
Patrick Bamford, one of Chelsea’s youth players perpetually on loan, played for Middlesbrough in the 2014-2015 season. Not only did he play for them but he did extremely well, scoring 17 goals in the Championship and winning the league’s Player of the Year award.
About the author
Navaneeth Ravichandran, @navrav28
Navaneeth is currently a university student at UBC in Vancouver, Canada. He enjoys many sports other than football, especially a passion for ice hockey, as almost every Canadian does. He has been a Blues fan since 2007 and will continue to be a loyal fan till the day he dies.